SHOULD People Leave their Non-Affirming Churches?
Before we answer that, we need to talk about this word "Should." When SHOULD we use it?
As I mentioned in the first part of this series, I’ve noticed quite the evolution in my responses when people ask the question, “Should I leave my non-affirming church?”
What used to strike me as a clear and obvious “Yes, of course you should,” has, over time, expanded in to a more softened, contextual awareness for the complexity at hand. In fact, I heard from many of you after I wrote that first article about why you’ve chosen to stay in your non-affirming churches. Thank you for sharing! Means a lot. In a couple weeks I plan to share some of what you’ve told me and offer my thoughts in response.
Today, though, whereas I was planning to write about five reasons why I think affirming Christians should leave their non-affirming churches, I realized the need to stop and talk about something first.
Specifically the word should.
Should we really be using that with each other? Telling people what they should and shouldn’t do with their lives?
And if so, when and why?
I USED TO SHOULD ALL OVER PEOPLE
For the most part I’ve tried to eliminate the word should from my vocabulary, especially when it comes to opining on the choices and behaviors of other people.
And yet, I haven’t eradicated it entirely. Instead, I’ve tried to reduce its usage and limit it to only select situations. Nowadays, before I tell someone what I think they should or should not do, I consider two factors:
What are the stakes?
What is the intended goal?
If the stakes aren’t high enough, or if I don’t have a clear picture of what the goal is, then I probably won’t say “should.” You do you, boo.
Because should is loaded with expectation. It puffs its user up with a sense of “I know what’s best.” And it runs the risk of drowning the other person with a sense of “you are a bad person if you don’t do this.”
In my more conservative/evangelical days I possessed no hesitation to routinely should all over people. That’s because I bought in to the lie that there was one clear and obvious way to live. I trusted my elders when they told me the world was black and white, easily divisible in to categories of right and wrong. Furthermore, I accepted their instruction that we could easily ascertain the black/white, right/wrongness of the world through the Bible, and, that such an endeavor was pretty straightforward. In other words, I operated under the believe that a plain and simple reading of the Bible was sufficient to tell a person how they should live (cue music: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, aka, B.I.B.L.E).
This led, naturally enough, to a posture where as long as I had a piece of Scripture to back me up it was easy to advise people on how to live their lives.
It’s not all that absurd to suggest that this was what it meant to study to become a pastor: learn how to read and interpret the Bible, then learn how to tell people what they should and should not do as a result.
Surely you know by now that that’s not a paradigm I accept any longer for all sorts of reasons. Just to name a few:
the Bible is not a clear and easy thing to read and understand,
the world is way more complex and colorful and can’t be split into clear categories of black and white, and
I’m nowhere near wise enough to tell people how to live.
As a result, I’m way, way slower to use a word like should anymore.
Which is not to say there’s never a place for insisting “you should not do that” or “you should do this.” Let’s not slide in to total subjectivity here, as I’m often accused of. It isn’t hard to come up with extreme scenarios in which the hesitancy to say “should” dissolves immediately. For example, if you are considering doing something that would cause great harm and suffering to another person, well, then I really don’t think you should do it. (I’ll leave it up to your imagination to think through what some of those extreme examples might be).
But most of life’s situations don’t occur in the realm of extremes. Therefore, when I consider the appropriateness for someone like me to tell other people what they should and shouldn’t do (such as the purpose of this series on leaving non-affirming churches), that’s when I go back to the two factors I mentioned above: the stakes, and, the goal.
WHAT ARE THE STAKES?
If I’m going to creep in to that dangerous territory of suggesting that a person should do/not do something, the stakes need to be pretty high.
Meaning, I’m not gonna go about telling a person they should eat less sugar, or they should stop putting aluminum laced deodorant in their armpit, or they should let people in their lane on the highway when they see a turn signal. Those are all pretty low stake affairs and I end up becoming a judgmental, arrogant prick who believes they know how everyone should live their life or what’s best.
But start cranking the stakes up and eventually it hits a tipping point for me where I’m willing to run the risk of being seen as (or possibly even being) said judgmental prick. Here’s a few examples off the top of my mind:
When parents get a divorce, they should figure out how to co-parent and communicate in a way that cares for the needs of the kids involved.
Parents should not send their queer kids to anything resembling reparative therapy.
Police officers should be trained better so as to not see black as criminal, to not reach for their loaded gun, and not panic when they get scared.
People should not text or use their phones while driving
For me, the stakes in each of those examples are high enough (the emotional well-being of vulnerable children; the pscyhological health of queer kids; the life of young black men; the deadliness of auto accidents) that I don’t mind tossing around shoulds like water bottles at Coachella.
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL?
The other factor I consider has to do with what the goal or the purpose is in a given situation.
You could say it like this: If you desire X, then you should consider doing Y.
This might sound obvious, but I think in order for this particular factor to be at play one has to legitimately know and understand another person’s goal and where they want to go or who they want to be. And that’s often easier said than done, I’ve erred many a times by assuming I know what people’s goals are or by thinking that I know better than them what they should be.
But in the event that I do indeed know what a person is trying to accomplish, and if I feel confident that a particular thing can aid in that process, then I might risk offering a should or two.
For example, above I said that telling someone they “should eat less sugar” did not really pass my test for high-enough-stakes. However, if I know that someone is actively working on getting healthier, or trying to lose weight, or trying to boost their immune system, etc, well then now it makes total sense to say, “you should stop drinking all that soda and eating all those cookies.”
Or if a person is wanting to find healing from a traumatic event from their past because they can see how it’s holding them back from having the kinds of relationships they long for, I might say, “You should go to therapy.”
In these examples, it’s not a “should” that presumes some black/white way of seeing the world, it’s a “should” in service of their own particular goal.
There’s nothing wrong with a should or two, in my opinion, if it’s offered in service of person A knowing and understanding where person B wants to go and, whether from experience, insight, or both, telling them what they should do to get there.
YOU SHOULD LEAVE YOUR NON-AFFIRMING CHURCH
All that to say, next week when I send out my list of Five Reasons Affirming Christians SHOULD Leave Their Non-Affirming Churches, I do so because I’ve carefully considered the above two factors and I feel both criteria have been met.
As I see it, the stakes here are incredibly high.
Non-affirming families, communities, and churches continue to be one of the (if not the) biggest contributors to trauma and suffering in LGBTQ people. Continuing to support such organizations through financial contributions, physically showing up, volunteering, or otherwise, only further fuels the engines of these destructive forces.
For me this is a justice issue. It is not right that LGBTQ people are excluded. It is not right that LGBTQ people are viewed as abominations or depraved. It is not right that LGBTQ people are feared, shunned, or shamed. Just as I would tell a person they shouldn’t continue going to a church that practices racial segregation, I would tell a person they shouldn’t continue going to a non-affirming church.
So yeah, the stakes are high.
Plus, if what you want to be in life is a person characterized by the fruits of the spirit and embodying the values of the Kingdom of God, then you should consider leaving your non-affirming church. Maybe you’re not convinced by or not moved by the stakes, but when’s the last time you asked yourself, “Who am I becoming? Who do I want to be?”
Just one example of what I mean. Let’s say you have kids, can you imagine a future day when one of them comes out to you? Which story would you prefer they witnessed:
One where their parents made the hard choice to leave the church they loved because it was non-affirming? Or,
One where they stayed in that church and now must explain to their kid why they never left. “Well, you see Timmy, I really liked that Bible Study...” Or, “Well, Becky, I know the Pastor won’t marry you and Susy, but your Dad and I just really love the music there, and we couldn’t find another church nearby.”
If you want to be people who live out your values, if you want to be people of integrity—both for now and for future situations—then start lining up your internal convictions with your external reality.
Yes, how beautiful it is when parents leave their church because their child came out as gay. We rightly applaud that maneuver.
But oh how much more beautiful it is when parents leave their church because it is not affirming so that, one day, down the road, if their kids need to come out to them, those kids will know and trust and believe that their parents are safe to do so.
What do you think?
As always, I welcome your feedback.
What’s your relationship to this word “should?”
Have you thought about it? Do you use it? Why or why not?
P.S.NO ALTER TODAY
Last week’s Alter had to be rescheduled because two of our family members tested positive for Covid breakthrough cases and it jumbled up our week pretty good.
This week, on Monday, I tested positive. Yay!
So I’m once again pushing back the 2022 launch of The Alter.
Thanks for understanding.
Two Sundays ago I gave a talk at Sojourn about the word Apocalypse.
And how this pandemic has been the end of the world as we once knew it…
Would love to share it with you and hear your thoughts!